Au Naturale Eye Essentials Kit

WHAT'S IN IT WEDNESDAY: "All Natural Preservatives"

I am often asked why I make natural products but use a synthetic preservative. My preservative of choice is either Optiphen or Optiphen Plus depending on the recipe. It is paraben-free and doesn't release formaldehyde or contain petrochemicals.

The other day I received an email from a potential customer who said she would buy my facial cream if I would sell it to her with an all-natural preservative instead of the preservative I use. She wanted only a 100% natural cream.

Truth be told, I *wish* there was a 100% natural preservative with years of testing behind it effective at keeping mold, bacteria and yeast away. In reality there is no such thing as an all natural preservative to protect against all 3.  I should say 4, as fungus would also be of concern. If you find a shop marketing something as containing an "all natural" preservative, read on and stay informed. Preservatives need to be used in oil and water mixtures in order to prevent bacteria, mold, fungus, and yeast. If you see an all-natural lotion know that it will last in the fridge for about a week

I have scoured dozens of shops and found some neat claims about the "all natural preservatives."

Let's look at some of these and find out more before you hit the "add to cart" button.

MYTH #1: Grapefruit Seed Extract is an all natural preservative.

GSE is not all natural.  People often confuse Grapefruit Essential Oil with Grapefruit Seed Extract. The essential oil is all natural and is great for aromatherapy. Actually, the name Grapefruit Seed Exract is misleading. One would assume that GSE is pulverized grapefruit seeds. It is anything but. What is Grapefruit Seed Extract then? GSE actually comes from chemically-altered grapefruit seeds which have been treated with Ammonium Chloride and other chemicals via a most unnatural chemical process. 

Does GSE preserve products in any way? Not really. Some people believe GSE may be mildly preservative, but research has consistenly shown that it is ineffective and that it is actually the tainted chemical components used to preserve the GSE itself--including triclosanbenzethonium chloride, and methylparaben-that are doing the tiny bit of preservation.  In other words, a paraben-free business may be using GSE which actually might have parabens in it.

MYTH #2: Vitamin E and Rosemary Oleoresin Extract are all-natural preservatives.

Wrong again. These 2 ingredients are antioxidants. Antioxidants are good. They help fight free radicals.

When used in a product, it can help to protect your more sensitive oils from oxidizing and becoming rancid. It is NOT a preservative. I use ROE in my eye balm and sleep balm--not to preserve (as there is no water & oil mixture to require a preservative), but to protect the oils.

MYTH #3: Herbal tinctures and extracts are natural preservatives.

When you see an ingredients listing and a product description indicating that the product is all-natural and preserved only with herbal blends, extracts, and tinctures, this is very misleading. What is not being revealed on the ingredients list is that it is only a "preservative" because some tinctures and extracts are preserved in butylene and propylene glycol. In other words, that "natural" ingredient used to "preserve" your product actually contains about 50-75% toxins.

MYTH #4: Grain alcohol is a safe, natural preservative.

No! Grain alcohol (ethyl alcohol) is NOT an effective preservative. While it is antibacterial, it would need to be used at a level of around 70% in the product to be effective. I don't know about you, but if I put a product with mainly alcohol on my skin, it would be drier than the Arizona desert in the summer time. Even if you would venture to try using it on your skin at such a high level, it will not protect against mold, fungus, and yeast.

There are a whole host of other "all natural preservatives" out there.

 One new "fad" is using a preservative with silver citrate and citric acid. I would not use this until many modifications have been made. The problem with this is that there are many contraindications and many conditions which MUST be followed to make sure this is used properly. There are many ingredients that cannot be used with silver citrate. If the pH level isn't measured properly each and every time with every batch, this will be ineffective.

The person formulating a product with this, I would suggest, should have years of experience making products and should be sure to have products made with this tested appropriately. The formulator must stabilize the preservative before using it with 2 ingredients: Hydroxyethyl Urea (this is derived from the urine and other bodily fluids of animals) and Citroflex (a mixture of ethanol and citric acid).

If this important step is skipped, the product should not be used. 

The manufacturer says products should be stored in amber or cobalt glass to preserve products made with this ingredient because light can destroy it. Unfortunately, many of the businesses I have seen using this do not follow that guideline and its preservative effects will be considered null.


This is a newer product being touted as an all natural preservative.

It is actually Glyceryl Monocaprylate, which is a fatty ester. It has been used over the years as a penetration enhancer--so topical medications will be absorbed through the skin more easily.This is the ingredient in Naturaguard.

 I have seen products recently cropping up with this ingredient in it. The one thing that is lacking, however, in most of these products is the other ingredient that MUST be used along with the Glyceryl Monocaprylate to render it effective in any way as a preservative: Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Benzoic Acid or Sorbic Acid. I tried this preservative a few months back with high hopes. Two problems were evident: #1, it irritated my skin when used in the smallest recommended concentration and #2, not enough research has been done on this when used as a preservative.

Potassium Sorbate and Sorbic Acid

These are food-grade preservatives. They keep cropping up in creams and lotions as a "natural preservative". While it is, indeed, a natural preservative, it is not broad spectrum. In other words, these cannot protect the products made with oils and water from bacteria, mold and yeast. I use sorbic acid in my facial scrub, which is water-free. It contains honey and sugar with the oils, so I use the sorbic acid to help retain freshness even though there isn't water in the product.

Black Willow Bark Extract

When used in combinaton with other ingredients, this can be mildly anti-microbial. That being said, it is not without flaws. For those who are not into researching their ingredients, they may be unaware that this is a natural form of salicylic acid, a relative of aspirin. Pregnant and breastfeeding women cannot use this ingredient. I know in my own case, pregnancy was when I started caring about what was going into my skin. Many other women do. Women may buy these natural creams containing Black Willow Bark thinking it is the better alternative without realizing that it cannot be used during pregancy or while breastfeeding.

The Bottom Line

As always, take a bit of time to look at the ingredients list when you buy. If ingredients are not listed on a product (which is commonplace online and even in retail (specifically ULTA lipstick), then don't buy. If you're tempted, ask for a complete ingredients listing. Many online shops will feature an ingredients list stating only "...and preservatives". Given that there are so many possible preservatives, if a company will not list it on the ingredients list (as required by the FDA's labeling policy), make sure you ask questions before you buy. Since the FDA doesn't seem to care about unsafe ingredients, YOU are your best advocate!